Only three years after thousands of voters across Western New York joined in an arguably historic and largely symbolic gesture to begin peeling away some of the layers of elected officialdom that so often seem to paralyze our region, we appear to be preparing to reverse course:
. The towns that were dragged into a public vote to eliminate two members of their Town Boards all are experiencing problems created by the lack of a quorum when one of the three members cannot attend a meeting.
. A group in the Town of Alden, one of the downsized, appears to have collected enough petition signatures to force a November ballot question on whether to reverse the earlier public vote and put two members back on the Town Board. A similar push is getting started in West Seneca.
. And last week, Kevin Gaughan, the downsizing architect who convinced voters in five towns that they really didn't need all those board members, was defeated in a Democratic primary for an Assembly seat, dealing a blow to his hopes to take the issue of government reform to Albany.
So much for the era of smaller government.
The optimists among us started to believe that the crusade to eliminate 40 percent of the people on Town Boards was going to lead to real change.
That notion was quickly put in the same box where we keep our Stanley Cup and Super Bowl dreams when Gaughan's push to eliminate village government got the same reception you get from the cashier when you try to pay for groceries with a traveler's check.
"Take away two politicians whose names are vaguely familiar? Sure. Take away our village? No, thank you."
The loss in that fight didn't just end the downsizing momentum; it led to a re-examination of the whole idea and now is on the brink of being undone, starting where one of the first downsizing votes occurred.
Gary Wagner, a onetime candidate for Alden highway superintendent, spearheaded the summer petition drive in that town. His primary objection, one that is shared by many who opposed the initiative, is that local government is where you find the most responsiveness and the least waste. You want to reform government? Start with Washington, then take the State Legislature before you go sniffing around Town Hall.
Wagner said he hopes Alden voters will agree with him that eliminating two voices from town government meant nothing more than two fewer people looking out for the town.
"We need to broaden our base so we have more influence to leverage our power," he said.
A nice idea, but adding two people to the board probably will have about the same net effect as eliminating two; it will make the people who support the idea happy, but it will not make government better or more efficient.
Alden voters barely approved downsizing three years ago, so it would not be a surprise if they voted to "upsize" this time. If they do, expect other towns to follow and to see three-member town boards fade into memory.
His critics always said this was never about smaller government; the movement was just about Gaughan. Maybe they were right. Because given what is happening, it appears the movement is just about gone.